It’s something that almost all bands have to deal with at some point; stick with a sound that works, or experiment and hope that everyone enjoys your new style. In some cases, it can work in your favour and you’ll see mass critical acclaim, and in other cases, it can result in disaster, with some bands breaking up due to the negative reception.
While some bands, such as U2 can change their style with almost every album and gain constant positive critical reception, it’s a much bigger deal for a lot of the smaller bands, who are still making a name for themselves, to change their sound and hope that their fans stick by them.
We have decided to take a look back at some of those bands who have undertaken a drastic change in their sound, only to see more success.
Some of these bands might have seen a huge change in their sound from how they began to when they achieved success, but in all these cases, they’ve gone from one sound to another, only to see themselves gain massive popularity, and a bunch of new fans.
Almost every Aussie music fan has a memory of where they were when they first heard Kingswood. Whether it was when they first heard the full-on aural assault that is ‘She’s My Baby’, or the lazy, slow-burning ‘I Can Feel That You Don’t Love Me’, the Melbourne rockers have a way of making glorious, infectious rock. With their album After Hours, Close To Dawn, the group experimented to the point that their label boss even thought the new record was a prank. Sure, they retain their trademark heaviness with the new album, but with their new album showing the group try out plenty of new sounds and styles, we’re certain that the sky’s the limit for Kingswood now.
The Beach Boys
Formed in 1961, The Beach Boys have managed to longevity that most bands dreams of. Their first few albums saw great critical acclaim due to their affinity for writing songs about girls, cars, and surfing, and with tracks like ‘Surfin’ U.S.A.’, ‘Fun Fun Fun’, and ‘I Get Around’, the public just adored their clean-cut, California surfer boy attitudes. When 1966 came around, the lads decided to experiment and try their hand at a few different instruments and sounds. The result was the magnificent Pet Sounds. Filled with luscious orchestral arrangements, and a more introspective tone than previous records, Pet Sounds is now considered a landmark album in music. While the following decades saw the group experiment with many other genres such as country and folk, it just goes to show that a change in sound is just what you need sometimes.
Fleetwood Mac are one of the world’s best-selling groups, with their 1977 album Rumours having sold well over 45 million copies to date. However, back when the group began in 1967, they started off as a relatively run-of-the-mill blues-rock band. With Mick Fleetwood on the drums, and Peter Green on guitar and vocal duties, the group recorded eight albums of decent blues-rock. However, once they brought in Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, well, that’s when things really started to kick off. Soon after the lineup change, the group were throwing out pop-rock singles like ‘Rhiannon’, and ‘Say You Love Me’, before recording and releasing the musical epic that is Rumours.
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Panic! At The Disco
If you were a teenager in the mid-2000s, you would’ve undoubtedly been exposed to Panic! At The Disco. With a mind-blowing mesh of pop, rock, electronic, emo, and baroque influences, the group’s debut album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, ultimately went double platinum in the US. Three years later, the group refocused their sound, dropped the exclamation point from their name, and released the psychedelic gem that is Pretty. Odd.. With clear influences from The Beatles in spades, the group managed to record an album that managed to expand their fanbase by appealing to the often-forgotten fans of psychedelic pop-rock.
Remember Powderfinger’s debut record, Parables For Wooden Ears? Oh, you don’t? Well, that’s pretty understandable, to be honest, most Aussie rock fans aren’t aware there was a Powderfinger before they burst onto the singles charts with tracks like ‘D.A.F.’, and ‘Living Type’ in 1996. But their first record, filled with angsty vocals and grungy guitar-based songs even led the Brisbane boys to tour with the American metal juggernaut Pantera when they visited our shores. Needless to say, by the time they released Double Allergic in 1996, the boys had mellowed into alternative rock, and we fell in love with the Powderfinger that would go on to be one of the most beloved Aussie groups of the last few decades.
The Bee Gees
The Bee Gees were one of the early Aussie success stories, with the Gibb brothers forming a group n 1958 that would go on to just become huge. Following their first few years in which they mainly performed folk-pop with mod-rock influences, producing songs such as the classic ‘Spicks And Specks’, the group actually broke up for a small period, with no intention of reforming. However, it’s a good thing they did, because only a few years after their reformation, they heeded the advice of Eric Clapton, who told them to go to Miami, Florida to record new music. The resulting sessions produced disco-influenced songs such as ‘Jive Talkin’, which would in turn get them picked to help create the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever, one of the biggest movies, and accompanying soundtracks of all time.
Staying true to their name, The Horrors released music that was ruthless, dark, and gothic, gaining themselves fans from all over the world who loved their brooding, irreverent sound. However, it was when the group released their second album that they surprised everyone. Making a broad jump from swampy punk on their first record to the blissed out electronic sounds of their second record Primary Colours, fans were somewhat divided. These days, the group’s initial punk-infused early days are largely overshadowed by the success of their new indie-rock, shoegaze style.
There’s no way we could write an article about changing styles without including Radiohead. Following their first record, the grunge-inspired Pablo Honey, the group started to make things somewhat more experimental, leading them to tend more towards the prevalent Britpop genre at the time with The Bends. Their dissatisfaction with the music industry and the technological culture of the time produced the groundbreaking and introspective OK Computer, which has gone on to be a classic of the genre. However, it was their follow-up, Kid A, which saw the group reach peak success. The electronic-infused, guitar-less record saw the group get their first #1 in the US, with fans adoring their hugely experimental sound. Following records saw the group return to more of a rock-based sound, but at the drop of a hat, Radiohead are willing to drop their guitars and bring back the majesty of their somewhat unconventional instruments.
Back in 1980, Karl Hyde and Rick Smith formed Underworld, with the intention of creating a synthpop style group, in accordance with the popular groups of the time. By the time they released their first record, Underneath The Radar, in 1988, their sound had gotten them airplay, but they were still lacking something. Following a lineup change in which Darren Emerson joined the group, the band released dubnobasswithmyheadman, which would go on to become a classic of the alternative techno genre. However, it was the success of Second Toughest In The Infants, and their appearance on the Trainspotting soundtrack that lead to their critical success. Empowered by the big-beat genre of the time, popularised by groups such as The Prodigy, Underworld experimented to the point where they would create ‘Born Slippy’, arguably their biggest hit, which was featured in the closing scene of the cult film Trainspotting.
Following her exit from the English group Automatic Dlamini, PJ Harvey embarked on a solo career. Her first three records, Dry, Rid Of Me, and To Bring You My Love, saw her experiment with a bluesy punk-rock sound that she managed to make a name for herself with. With tracks such as ‘Sheela-Na-Gig’, and ‘Down By The Water’, Harvey was critically acclaimed by music critics around the world, even frequently collaborating with Nick Cave. However, by the time PJ Harvey released Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea, in 2000, she had begun to experiment with a far more accessible indie-rock style. Following her winning the Mercury Prize for the record, she would go on to release more records in the same style. Her eighth album, 2011’s Let England Shake, saw her more toward a somewhat more folk-rock style, but still saw her receive a second Mercury Prize, the only artist to win more than once.
Remember when Maroon 5 were considered somewhat alternative? Sure, they always had that pop-sound bubbling under the funk-rock exterior, but with tracks like ‘This Love’, and the hard-hitting ‘Harder To Breathe’, the group gained airplay from plenty of alternative stations back in the day. Following a five year gap between their debut record Songs About Jane, and their second record It Won’t Be Soon Before Long, the group had managed to embrace a disco-pop, blue-eyed soul style to their music. With tracks like ‘Makes Me Wonder’ and ‘Wake Up Call’ on their new record, they had kissed their early alternative days goodbye. In 2011, they released the track ‘Moves Like Jagger’, which would go on to further consolidate their pop direction, with the track going on to become one of the biggest selling digital singles of all time.
Fiona Apple burst onto the music scene in the mid-’90s with her track ‘Criminal’, introducing us to the young musician’s affinity for alternative pop with jazz influences. In 1999, she released her second album, When The Pawn Hits…, which would go on to be considered one of the greatest albums of the ’90s, thanks to brilliant tracks like ‘Paper Bag’, and ‘Fast As You Can’. When The Pawn Hits… saw Apple put her jazz-influenced sound in he forefront, moving away from the alternative style she had made a name for herself with. In 2012, Apple released her fourth album, The Idler’s Wheel, which saw her further move away from her alternative sound, moving toward more of a Regina Spektor-esque experimental sound. The record received almost universal acclaim, and was named one of the best albums for the decade so far by Pitchfork, just going to show she’s not quite done yet with making amazing music.
The Beastie Boys are one of the most popular hip-hop groups in musical history, having released a number of critically acclaimed albums and singles, and even being inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. However, their famous hip-hop style is an afterthought to the original style the group performed, with the band originally forming as a hardcore punk band. Forming as the Young Aborigines in the late ’70s, the group recorded an EP in 1982 under the name of the Beastie Boys entitled Polly Wog Stew, before releasing a comedy single titled ‘Cooky Puss’. The single was more of a throwaway attempt at using sampling, however it managed to catch the eye of British Airways, who used the song’s B-side ‘Beastie Revolution’ for one of their commercials without the group’s consent. The group sued the company, receiving $40,000 USD (close to $100,000 in today’s money) which they used to fund a full-scale transition to hip-hop, and the rest, as they say, is history.
No Doubt started back in 1986 as a ska-punk band, fronted by John Spence. Sadly, shortly before the group were due to play a show for record executives, Spence committed suicide, and the group broke up. Following an interim period in which trumpet player Alan Meade was the vocalist, Meade eventually left and was replaced by the group’s backing vocalist Gwen Stefani. The group’s heavy, ska-punk style and intense live shows saw them signed to a record deal, which resulted in a self-titled album. At this time, bassist Tony Kanal ended his seven-year relationship with Gwen Stefani, and left the group, resulting in the group unsure of what to do. Following an independent album of outtakes in 1995 titled The Beacon Street Collection, Kanal returned to the band, and performed on their breakthrough album Tragic Kingdom. Filled with tracks written about his relationship with Stefani, the group’s new, pop-punk sound won them new fans from everywhere, and would go on to be their biggest album.
The ’90s were a far simpler time. Back then, you could release music like Sugar Ray’s ‘Fly’, and everyone would love it. Sure, it’s not a terrible song, but the fact it got higher on the charts than bands like Regurgitator, well, that’s a national outrage. The odd thing is though, that ‘Fly’ is nothing like how the group started out. When they released their first record Lemonade And Brownies, in 1995, the group were embracing more of a funk-rap, nu-metal style, somewhat similar to Limp Bizkit. Instead of languishing in obscurity like many other bands of the genre, they decided to take on more of a pop-rock style. Armed with tracks like ‘Fly’, ‘Every Morning’, and ‘When It’s Over’, the group have gone on to become one of those 90’s bands who are now sadly relegated to being heard in few places, save for your local grocery store’s P.A. system.
Ministry are often considered to be one of the loudest, and most intense live bands in the industrial music genre. With their incredibly heavy style, and the screamed, frightening vocals of frontman Al Jourgensen, the group were right at home in the early ’90s alongside bands like Nine Inch Nails and Skinny Puppy. However, the group’s initial sound was more of a Depeche Mode-style synthpop that sounds nothing like their later work did. Much more melodic than their later work, and better categorised under the genre of ‘new wave’, Ministry stepped away from their synthpop beginnings after their debut album With Sympathy, and gained a darker sound with their second record Twitch. The early ’90s saw them embrace industrial at its peak with tracks like ‘Jesus Built My Hotrod’ and ‘N.W.O.’, and saw them reach huge critical success, even appearing at the 1996 Big Day Out festival alongside acts like Grinspoon.
While we’re on the topic of bands that started out sounding like Depeche Mode, let’s talk about Depeche Mode. The group’s poppy, synth-infused sound was so upbeat and happy-go-lucky that their name is almost synonymous with the genre. However, as the ’80s progressed, the group dropped their upbeat styles and moved towards a darker, atmospheric style. Their seventh album, 1990’s Violator, saw the group fame reach it’s peak. With tracks such as ‘Personal Jesus’, ‘Policy Of Truth’, and ‘Enjoy The Silence’, the group’s brooding, dark sound would go on to inspire musicians as diverse and widespread as Nine Inch Nails, Arcade Fire, and Marilyn Manson.
Sinéad O’Connor’s career began in the late ’80s thanks to brilliant tracks such as ‘Troy’ and ‘Mandinka’, although her success was mainly limited to Ireland and the UK. Following the release of her cover of Prince and The Family’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, O’Connor’s fame went through the rood, culminating in an infamous performance on Saturday Night Live, in which she tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II in protest of Catholic Church sexual abuse claims. After a lull in the ’90s, O’Connor returned to the fold in 2000 with the album Faith & Courage. Produced by such artists as Wyclef Jean, Brian Eno, and Dave Stewart from the Eurythmics, the much more polished pop-rock styled album saw O’Connor’s biggest success in a decade, with two songs, ‘Daddy I’m Fine’, and ‘No Man’s Woman’ making that year’s Hottest 100 countdown.